Undergoing surgery requires a tremendous amount of trust. A surgical patient is in an extremely vulnerable position and must rely on their expectations that the surgeon and medical staff will apply the highest standard of care. But what happens when a patient awakens from the deep sleep of surgery only to learn that not only did the surgery fail to address the medical issue that put them on the operating table in the first place, but in fact, they’ve undergone a completely unnecessary surgery on a perfectly healthy body part, resulting in permanent harm?
If you’ve been injured in the Phoenix area by a surgeon who performed surgery on the wrong body part, you deserve justice. While nothing can undo the harm caused to your body, compensation for your damages can help ensure access to the best possible medical care and relieve financial burdens while you recuperate. The Phoenix medical malpractice attorneys at Knapp & Roberts understand the impacts of life-changing medical malpractice cases, including wrong-site surgeries. Let our two decades of experience work for you so you can recover physically and financially from your damages.
What Are Wrong-Site Surgeries?
The USA’s Joint Commission on Accreditation of Healthcare Organizations (JCAHO) describes these occurrences as “Sentinel Events in Healthcare,” a term that means an unexpected occurrence resulting in serious physical or psychological harm or in death. Wrong-site surgeries include any surgical procedure performed on the wrong body site, the wrong side of the body, or on the wrong patient.
Wrong-site surgery is a catastrophic form of medical malpractice and an act of negligence. In some cases, wrong-site surgery results in the following:
The loss of perfectly healthy organs and other body parts.
An unnecessary implant or implant on the wrong body part, such as the wrong hip or knee replacement
Surgery on the wrong limb, such as a right arm or leg instead of the left
Surgery on the wrong level of the spine
Surgery on the wrong eye
Biopsy of the wrong lung
Surgical amputation of the wrong limb
Undergoing a surgical procedure intended for another patient
Reporting wrong-site surgery to the Joint Commission is voluntary, so it’s likely that they occur more often than current statistics reveal.
Real-Life Examples of Wrong-Site Surgeries
Despite the medical community’s acknowledgment that wrong-site surgeries are sentinel events that should never occur, they remain a rare, but persistent problem in hospitals and surgical facilities across the U.S. Some real-life examples reveal the egregious harm caused to patients who are victims of wrong-site surgeries:
A 53-year-old male patient presented to Hospital A with abdominal pain and blood in the urine (hematuria). CT scans revealed a likely renal-cell carcinoma in the patient’s right kidney. After being transported to Hospital B for surgery, the documentation accompanying the patient indicated a left-side kidney tumor. The CT-scan imaging was not a part of the documentation sent to Hospital B, and Hospital B did not perform independent imaging. The surgeon chose to proceed with the surgery, despite members of the surgical team asking if they should wait for imaging. The surgeon removed the left kidney which came back from pathology as cancer-free. Examination of the original CT scan revealed the error. The patient then had a second surgery to remove the cancerous kidney and began dialysis. As a cancer patient, he was not a candidate for a kidney transplant.
In Naples, Florida, a 19-month-old toddler underwent surgery to repair a hernia. The surgeon also removed the child’s healthy right testicle due to a patient record error.
In 2013, a surgeon placed a mechanical implant into the heart valve of a 10-year-old boy. Sadly, the boy died five weeks later. An autopsy revealed that the surgeon had implanted the device into the wrong heart valve.
In Massachusetts, a surgeon performed a carpal tunnel procedure on a patient and then went on to a second surgery where he was meant to release a case of trigger finger (finger caught in a bent position which snaps when straightened) in a 65-year-old woman. The surgical markings had been washed off the woman’s hand during surgical prep. The surgeon performed a carpal tunnel procedure on the woman rather than the correct procedure to release the trigger finger.
In 1995, a 51-year-old diabetic patient was scheduled for a right foot amputation due to circulatory failure. The surgeon began amputating the left foot and realized his mistake partway through the procedure but the damage was too severe to save the partially amputated foot. The doctor completed the amputation. The patient later had a second surgery to amputate the right foot.
Proving Provider Liability for Wrong-Site Surgeries
Described in medical literature as a “sentinel event,” and “never event, wrong-site surgery is the most egregious form of medical malpractice, often with catastrophic, life-altering results to the victim. While every medical provider and facility has malpractice insurance to protect from personal liability, Arizona requires injury victims to prove negligence on the part of the surgeon, hospital, or surgery center after a wrong-site surgery. Proving negligence in malpractice cases requires demonstrating the following points:
That the medical provider had a doctor/patient relationship with the injury victim at the time the wrong-site surgery occurred
That the provider owed a special duty of care toward the patient to treat them at the industry-accepted standard of care
That the provider breached this special duty of care by acting negligently
That the negligent breach of duty directly caused the injury
That the injury victim suffered significant damages due to the injury, including economic damages and non-economic damages like pain and suffering
While financial compensation cannot undo the injury, it can open doors to the best corrective medical care and relieve financial burdens. Non-economic damages like pain and suffering, loss of limb, and disfigurement may be more difficult to quantify for financial compensation compared to medical expenses and lost wages, but these intangible damages are often the most serious, with traumatic impacts on the victim.
What Are The Ramifications for Patients After Wrong-Site Surgery?
This type of medical malpractice has multiple negative consequences for patients who may lose a healthy body part, undergo dangerous surgery on a healthy body part, endure unnecessary wounds and scars, or in the worst instances, suffer the irreparable loss of a limb. On top of this unimaginable harm, these patients often have to suffer a second surgery to address the original issue that brought them to the hospital.
Wrong-site surgeries can have both short and long-term consequences for patients. Depending on the type of surgery performed, the ramifications could be unnecessary scarring, a second surgery, increased risk of infection, life-altering changes to body function, and even permanent disabilities.
These mistakes also cause economic and non-economic damages such as increased medical costs, lost time from work, and decreased future earning capacity as well as pain, suffering, and emotional anguish.
What Are the Most Common Surgeries to Result in Wrong-Site Surgical Errors?
According to the Patient Safety Network, wrong-side surgeries are the most common type of wrong-site surgery, comprising 59% of these errors, while 23% were wrong-site errors, 14% were wrong-procedure mistakes, and 5% were wrong-patient surgeries.
Wrong-site surgeries occur most often in orthopedic operations, such as operating on the wrong wrist, elbow, knee, shoulder, or hip. Neurological procedures related to the spine are the second most common type of wrong-site surgery, with procedures sometimes performed on the wrong discs or at the wrong level.
Wrong Site Surgery Prevention
The Joint Commission recommends universal protocols to prevent “never events” like wrong-site surgeries. These include:
Pre-procedure verification protocols to confirm the correct patient, correct procedure, and correct site
Marking the procedure site on the patient prior to surgery
Taking a “time-out” before beginning a surgical procedure to verify again the first two steps
It’s also critical to hire qualified staff and ensure proper staff training on pre-procedure policies and protocols. Multiple independent checks of critical information are the best way to prevent wrong-site surgeries.
How Frequently Do Wrong Site Surgeries Occur?
Wrong-site surgery may be the most egregious and terrifying form of medical malpractice, but shockingly, these irreparable errors occur in an estimated 40 surgeries per week in hospitals and surgery centers throughout the United States. While one study estimated approximately one wrong-site surgery per every 112,000 surgical procedures, the estimate focused solely on those errors occurring in hospitals and did not include surgery centers, clinics, and other settings. In fact, Veteran’s Affairs (VA) data shows that only about half of surgical errors occur in hospitals while the other 50% happen outside of the operating room in surgical centers and other facilities. One explanation for the discrepancy is the fact that wrong-site surgeries occur in high-volume orthopedic procedures more than any other type of surgery. This type of error could be as common as 4.5 instances per every 10,000 surgeries.
What Damages Can You Collect From a Wrong-Site Surgery Claim in Arizona?
Because wrong-site surgery is the most serious medical error, it’s a form of medical malpractice. Victims are entitled to full compensation for damages such as the following:
Medical expenses and future medical expenses for any required corrective procedures
Lost wages and future lost income
Lowered earning capacity in the case of disability resulting from wrong-site surgery
Pain and suffering
Diminished quality of life
Compensation and damages awards for wrong-site surgery claims are among the highest. The experienced legal team at Knapp & Roberts of Phoenix can help you get the compensation and justice you deserve.
Statute of Limitations for Wrong-Site Surgery Claims in Phoenix
Arizona places a time limit on personal injury claims including a 2-year statute of limitations for wrong-site surgery claims. You must file your claim within two years of the date of the event, or within two years of your discovery of the event if some time passed while you were unaware of the mistake or its impacts.
Does Arizona Cap Medical Malpractice Compensation?
While some states limit the amount of compensation available to medical malpractice victims, Arizona isn’t one of them. There is no cap on medical malpractice compensation after a wrong-site surgery.
Can I Claim Punitive Damages After a Wrong-Site Surgery?
Unlike compensation for damages, which serves to help victims regain financial losses and provide redress for pain and suffering, punitive damages serve as a punishment to the wrongdoer, as well as a deterrent to them and others to repeat the behavior. Despite the egregious harm caused by wrong-site surgery, Arizona’s standard for punitive damages requires evidence that the wrongdoer had evil intentions or acted with an “evil hand and evil mind.” It’s unlikely that circumstances in a wrong-site surgery claim would warrant punitive damages since the claims are based on negligence and not intentional wrongdoing.
What You Can Do If You Were a Victim of Wrong-Site Surgery
If you discover that a surgeon wrongly performed your surgery on the wrong site or performed another person’s scheduled surgery on you, you’ve been the victim of a serious form of medical malpractice and should do the following:
Obtain a detailed copy of your medical records and all records of your surgery
Ask the hospital for an accident report or incident report
See a doctor who is not associated with the surgical unit that wrongly performed your surgery and undergo a complete medical evaluation. Ask for a detailed report including treatment recommendations and prognosis
Keep a detailed journal of your pain, additional procedures, and related health problems
Gather evidence of missed work days from your employer
Call the Phoenix wrong-site surgical error attorneys at Knapp & Roberts for an evaluation of your case.
Other Related Surgical Errors
Wrong-site surgeries are an egregious medical error described as a “never event,” or one that should never occur. But they still occur, despite the protocols in place. Sadly, other surgical errors are eleven more common in medical malpractice claims including:
Left behind foreign objects: when a surgical implement such as a clamp, scalpel, or piece of gauze is accidentally left inside a body cavity after closing. Depending on the type of foreign object left behind, this error can cause tissue damage, internal bleeding, infection, and/or pain. Surgical protocols demand a thorough accounting for all objects used during surgery before the surgery takes place and before closing to identify any missing objects, but left-behind foreign objects remain the most common surgical mistake.
Wrong surgery performed: this medical mistake occurs when a surgical team performs the wrong surgery on a patient due to administrative mistakes, communication errors, or patient transportation mistakes. This type of error may result in the loss of a healthy body part while the patient’s true medical condition may worsen due to not receiving the surgery they needed in a timely manner.
Unnecessary surgical injury: when a surgeon or member of the surgical team makes a careless move during surgery, resulting in a puncture, laceration, or other internal injury it can cause serious complications, lengthy recovery times, and irreparable damage to nerves, organs, or other body parts.
Anesthesia errors: many surgical malpractice claims involve anesthesia errors. Too much anesthesia can cause a loss of oxygen, a dangerous drop in blood pressure, and lasting impairment. Too little anesthesia may result in a patient who awakens during surgery or who may feel the pain of surgery while being immobile and unable to voice their pain. This surgical error results in lasting emotional trauma, PTSD, anxiety, and depression.
A patient on the surgical table is in an extremely vulnerable position. Waking up to find they’ve been a victim of a surgical error is painful, frightening, and traumatic.
Consequences of Wrong-Site Surgeries
Wrong-site surgeries are devastating to the patient, both physically and emotionally. Common consequences of this egregious medical mistake include:
Delayed medical treatment
Lengthy recovery time due to multiple surgeries
Undue medical expenses
Physical trauma to the body
If you’ve been the victim of wrong-site surgery, you may feel violated and helpless. It’s important to know that you have legal recourse in a wrong-site surgery claim. While financial compensation can’t erase the harm caused by a wrong-site surgery, it can relieve financial burdens, open doors to the best medical care, and grant a sense of justice to survivors of wrong-site surgeries and their families.
Who Could Be Liable in a Wrong-Site Surgery Case?
It often takes an experienced medical malpractice attorney to determine the liable party in a wrong-site surgery claim. While it seems as though the surgeon would necessarily be the liable party, that isn’t always the case. Liability could lie with any of the following in a wrong-site surgery case:
The surgeon if they are an independent contractor with privileges at the hospital or surgery center
The hospital, surgery center, or other facility if the surgeon is an employee
A member of the surgical team
A member of the administrative team
Before proving liability in a medical malpractice case, the injury victim must correctly identify the liable party. In some cases, there may be multiple liable parties for wrong-site surgery, including the surgeon, the medical facility, the lab, nurses, surgical team members, and interns.
Why Choose Knapp & Roberts for Your Phoenix Wrong-Site Surgery Case?
Our personal injury law firm has a strong record of success in navigating Arizona’s legal system for medical malpractice cases, including wrong-site surgeries. We will put our two decades of experience, strong community reputation, and resources to work to gather evidence of your injury, prove liability, and craft a compelling case for the maximum compensation for your damages with no out-of-pocket costs. We only get paid when you’re awarded compensation.
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The personal injury attorneys in Phoenix, Arizona, at Knapp & Roberts have the compassion and trial lawyer skills to tell your story to a jury. We will get to know you and your family so that we can help the jury understand what has happened to you and your family and how it has changed your lives. Obtain the compensation necessary for the injuries and losses you have suffered.